The farmer being paid about £1m to stop having pigs on his land - to unlock the building of thousands of new homes - does not own the animals there, it has emerged.

But the leader of the council which has led on the controversial deal has defended the agreement, insisting it is vital to reduce the amount of nutrients flowing into Norfolk's waterways - and get housebuilding moving again.

As previously reported, council officers have struck a deal that the farmland on the outskirts of Norwich cannot be used for pig farming.

Eastern Daily Press: Pig farming will not be permitted on these fields either side of the A47Pig farming will not be permitted on these fields either side of the A47 (Image: Denise Bradley)

That is to help overcome a limbo which has stopped authorities making decisions over new housing for eight months.

It does this by 'offsetting' the polluting impact of the new homes on rivers, by removing a comparative amount of pollution produced by the pigs.

Farmer James Daniels is being compensated by Norfolk Environmental Credits Ltd, a joint venture between Norfolk councils and Anglian Water, in return for not having pigs on his land, close to the rivers Yare and Tas.

Eastern Daily Press: Pig farming will not be allowed on the landPig farming will not be allowed on the land (Image: Denise Bradley)

But it has emerged the pigs on the land, off Markshall Farm Road near Caistor St Edmund, do not belong to Mr Daniels.

They belong to Norfolk Free Range Ltd, owned by Downham Market-based farmers Steve and Sally Ann Hart, who rent the land from him.

Eastern Daily Press: Steve HartSteve Hart (Image: Ian Burt)

The Daily Mail reported that Mr Hart had said he had not heard from Mr Daniels about what would now happen to his pigs. He did not want to comment further when contacted by the EDP.

With Norfolk Free Range having more than 40 sites around Norfolk, it raised the prospect that the pigs could just be moved elsewhere.

Eastern Daily Press: South Norfolk Council leader John FullerSouth Norfolk Council leader John Fuller (Image: Newsquest)

But John Fuller, leader of South Norfolk Council, said the location of that particular site meant preventing pigs being farmed there would bring benefits.

Mr Fuller said: "The land in question is bounded on two sides by two different rivers, the Yare and Tas.

"The land forms part of the valley sides and untreated animal manures get washed directly into the rivers after heavy rainfall.  It's an extraordinarily sensitive location that would not be replicated elsewhere.

"We need to do everything we can to avoid livestock manures on valley sides washing into the rivers.

"The opportunity to control that land, to clean up the river, dramatically extend green spaces in the southern bypass landscape protection zone and at no cost to the taxpayer is one that meets every target, as well as getting our economy moving and artisan tradesmen back to work."


How will the deal help get homes built?

The deal - which uses planning restrictions to control the use of the land for 80 years - is part of an effort to find a solution to a limbo which stopped councils in large parts of the county being able to grant permission for new homes.

Since March last year, local authorities have been unable, after a directive by government advisor Natural England, to give housing the go-ahead in catchment areas of the Wensum and the Broads.

That directive said councils could not permit new housing unless developers could 'offset' the extra nutrients which would flow from wastewater in the new homes, for example from washing machines and sewage.

Since then, councils have been trying to find ways to provide mitigation measures - and the deal over the pig farm is the first example.

The idea is that, by reducing nutrient run-off there, it would mitigate pollution from new homes built in other locations.

Developers would be able to buy 'credits' from Norfolk Environmental Credits to offset nutrients created by their housing schemes - and council bosses said that will cover the compensation price tag the company is to pay the farmer.

Council officers say the closure of the pig farm would mean they could grant permission for up to 5,000 homes.Eastern Daily Press: Some in the farming sector fear such deals could hit the pig industrySome in the farming sector fear such deals could hit the pig industry (Image: Ian Burt)


Why is the deal proving controversial?

But the deal has prompted concern among some in the agriculture sector, who fear such agreements could create a shortage of land and impact the supply of animals.

While many farming sectors can generate nutrients, the pig industry is a particular concern for environmentalists.

They need to consume large amounts of nutrients which creates especially high quantities of manure and slurries - which also contain nutrients.

Since the animals are reared in the open it ends up flushing into rivers and watercourses.

There have also been concerns raised about the transparency of such arrangements.